Visakhapatnam: The Corona virus scare and the nationwide lockdown has brought the ganja smuggling business, worth crores of rupees, in Vizag and Rampachodavaram Agency to a grinding halt.

Lockdown in tribal areas, state borders, and the NH-16 stretch, along with the increased police presence at check-posts due to the outbreak of COVID-19, has forced ganja peddlers to stop smuggling weed in vehicles, said Vizag deputy Excise commissioner T. Srinivasa Rao.

One kg ganja is procured for Rs. 2,000 in the agency and sold at Rs. 40,000 in cities, thereby attracting smugglers from Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Odisha, and New Delhi. The Sheelavathi variety grown in the Vizag region is popular among ganja users, besides the ganja grown in the Idukki Valley of Kerala.

The drug peddlers used to evade the enforcement agencies by adopting innovative and sophisticated ways to transport ganja from Vizag and East Godavari districts to various parts of the country. A senior officer said the smugglers sometimes load the weed along with vegetables and other essentials commodities. “We are taking all measures to check ganja smuggling during the lockdown,” he said.

Another senior officer said ganja smuggling hit a low after the government’s demonetisation move in November 2016. But it picked up three months later.

Ganja is cultivated in around 12,000 acres of land in Vizag, East Godavari, and along the Andhra-Odisha border where the Maoist presence keeps police and Excise personnel away. Teenagers often pilot the vehicles used to smuggle the drug for which they are paid Rs. 5,000 per trip. Ganja smuggling has not only enriched the traders from outside Andhra but also tribal farmers who harvest it under the guidance of Tamil Naidu smugglers. Youths also make money by giving shelter to the smugglers and guiding them to safety.

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